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Five Reasons Gaming Should Be Used in Schools


Five Reasons Gaming Should Be Used in Schools

Collaboration, motivation, and normalizing failure are just some of the benefits gaming could bring to your students.

By Ping (Benson) Cheng Yeh

Earlier this year, I was interviewed for an article on classroom cheating, and I talked about how gamification solved this problem for me at the University of Michigan, Ann-Arbor. Indeed, gamification solves an array of problems in the classroom: Games boost student engagement, empower students with the responsibility for learning, encourage success while taking failure lightly, promote collaboration, and make teaching easier for instructors. I believe that gamification is not only a nice-to-have but a must-have in any classroom because it’s based on what we all do: strive to win!

  1. Games motivate and therefore empower students.

Children innately love games. In fact, according to a recent NBC news article, 97% of kids under 18 play video games in the United States. During their free time, children play with their peers, with inanimate objects, or on their devices. In fact, play is essential to child development. Because children naturally love play, mixing it with classroom learning makes learning more fun and motivates students to actively participate. A recent Stanford study shows that mixing traditional learning techniques with games is more effective than just implementing traditional classroom techniques or just playing educational games.

I recently met Rene, a math teacher in Mexico who used my social-learning game, PaGamO, to turn his classroom around. PaGamO is a virtual world in which students must answer questions assigned by their teachers in order to expand their space and develop their land. “My D students are now receiving A’s and B’s,” he told me. His struggling students were uninterested in the subject, until he entered his math question bank into PaGamO and assigned it as a mission to his students. When his students played the game and answered the math questions correctly, they would level up in the game and gain tokens and land to cultivate. Suddenly he discovered that his struggling students were so motivated to play the game that they have now started to learn his math material in order to do well in the game. Students who had previously labeled themselves as “bad at math” were now catching up to their peers. This is not only true for James’s class. Gaming has proven to be effective with struggling students; 47% of teachers have seen that low-performing students do the best in gaming classrooms, 30% have seen that all students benefit equally, and only 1% believe that their students do not benefit at all from gaming in classrooms.

  1. Games enable students to take charge of their own learning.

Once students are motivated, the games enable them to take responsibility for their learning and and practice self-empowerment. Games provide self-accountability for problems and a way of checking progress, and they help students learn at their own pace, all of which improve a students’ learning experience and empower them to take charge of their learning.

For example, students’ personal profiles on PaGamO keep track of their correct, incorrect, and corrected questions, enabling study outside of school without teacher guidance or instruction. Students can monitor their progress based on their game statistics; they can even see how long they have practiced a specific subject on a particular day, giving them more control over and insights into their learning progress and development.

  1. Games encourage normalization of failure.

Best-selling self-help books such as Originals and The Confidence Gap stress the importance of the normalization of failure in order to achieve success. When failure is labeled as a “big deal,” students become immobilized from fear of failure and are unable to move forward in their studies. Instead of providing students with so many tests, stressing them out from the process and making it a huge deal, we should instead be educating students that it’s okay to fail, and that failing multiple times will lead to success. Games are disconnected from reality, enabling students to practice concepts in a low-pressure setting.

Moreover, games provide students with immediate feedback. When the answer is incorrect, students know right away. They don’t have to wait weeks for a test to be graded to know that their concepts were wrong. Because of the immediate feedback, students can get in the habit of correcting their mistakes as soon as they arise.

  1. Games foster collaboration.

   Games allow for peer-to-peer collaboration. This year my start-up company, BoniO, hosted the worldwide Calculus World Cup. Students were invited to collaborate in teams of three and asked calculus-related questions. I’ve realized that students love to work collaboratively and also to watch other students work collaboratively.

Games also foster teacher-student collaboration. In a game that I’ve created to boost student engagement in Taiwanese MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), students design their own questions, share them with the teacher, and have other students solve their problems to earn badges and points. In this way, students are empowered because they can contribute to the curriculum design.

  1. Games revolutionize teaching.

Games can provide better one-on-one instruction—personalized content, real-time assessment, adaptive learning and the ability to teach mixed-proficiency groups. On PaGamO, teachers are able to upload their own personalized content. This is important because it helps teachers connect with students. Instead of automating learning, we’re customizing learning. Teachers can see in real time how students are doing in their classes, group high-performing and low-performing students, and send them questions that best cater to their abilities. Because of this feature, teachers can instruct mixed-proficiency groups and achieve a one-on-one atmosphere even in a large classroom. Games affect classrooms in unexpected ways; I’ve seen games end up motivating teachers and parents just as much as students. Teachers often ask if they can play PaGamO with their students—that’s a yes—and parents who play with their kids even sign themselves up for PaGamO competitions!

Ping-Cheng (Benson) Yeh is the co-founder of PaGamO, BoniO inc., and holds many offices at National Taiwan University including director of the MOOC Program, associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Development, and professor in Electrical Engineering.

Photo: Gettyimages

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